The Trick

  • Review
By – May 16, 2017

Mag­ic isn’t real. Or is it? Not the stage illu­sions, such as cut­ting a woman in half, or men­tal­ist feats where the per­former appears to know what you’re think­ing — those tricks are explain­able. But love is mag­ic, and mir­a­cles can happen.

In the ear­ly days of the 20th cen­tu­ry in Prague, Rab­bi Laibl Gold­en­hirsch and his wife, Rif­ka, des­per­ate­ly long for a child, but their efforts are to no avail. Then Laibl gets called to war. When he returns, Rif­ka is preg­nant sus­pi­cious­ly soon. It’s a mir­a­cle,” she says. Immac­u­late con­cep­tion.” Because the rab­bi loves his wife, and because they want the child so much, he accepts her words. Also, he has secrets of his own. But lit­tle Moshe is a gift and he is loved.

A cen­tu­ry lat­er, in Los Ange­les, Max Cohn is look­ing for­ward to his eleventh birth­day, when his par­ents announce that they’re get­ting divorced. A few weeks ear­li­er, when his father made him clean out his bunny’s cage instead of let­ting him go to the movies, Max wished him gone. So now, Max blames him­self for the divorce. He has to make it right. He finds an old record labeled: ZAB­BA­TI­NI: HIS GREAT­EST TRICKS. When he plays the record, the Love Spell is dam­aged. Max resolves to find this Zab­ba­ti­ni and have him per­form the spell to reunite his parents.

Back in Prague, Moshe grows up. One day, a neigh­bor takes him to the cir­cus. The boy is entranced by the expe­ri­ence and awed by the magi­cian’s pret­ty assis­tant. A few weeks lat­er, Moshe runs away to join the cir­cus, where he gains a new name: The Great Zabbatini.

The Trick pro­ceeds with these dual sto­ry­lines. Max fol­lows a lead to Zab­ba­ti­ni and plans a sur­prise for his birth­day par­ty. Moshe’s tal­ents and career grow against the back­drop of increas­ing anti-Semi­tism. Neigh­bors are your friends until they aren’t. Vil­lagers accept mon­ey to keep secrets until there’s no more mon­ey and they get paid else­where. In a chap­ter called Scheherazade’s Last Tale,” Zab­ba­ti­ni per­forms a new trick every night for the camp com­man­dant until he final­ly gets bored and throws Moshe in with the rest of the prisoners.

Emanuel Bergman has writ­ten a beau­ti­ful, haunt­ing tale of love, betray­al, and redemp­tion. This care­ful­ly con­struct­ed and bril­liant­ly imag­ined sto­ry is one of sub­tle charm — the read­er hard­ly real­izes how much they’ve learned until the end. The Trick begins with a mir­a­cle and ends with one, too.

Sydelle Shamah has been lead­ing book club dis­cus­sions for many years, and is a pub­lished sci­ence fic­tion writer. She was pres­i­dent of the Ruth Hyman Jew­ish Com­mu­ni­ty Cen­ter of Mon­mouth Coun­ty, NJ.

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